Thursday, March 17, 2011

Should teachers like all of their students?

I'd like to preface this post by saying my thoughts are not altogether as clear as they might be on this matter.  It also assumes the teacher is in a traditional classroom setting and tries to project how that teacher should behave given that setting.  It does not debate the merit of traditional settings vs. other kinds.

When I taught high school, I once had a discussion with the vice-principal that was part of a routine class observation. In this discussion, she said that students will show classroom etiquette if they believe the teacher is "on their side," "wants them to succeed," and believes in their "potential." The supervisor made reference to a teacher at the same school who goes to class with her high school pom poms and cheers at right answers.  While I think this would help underrested students wake up, this suggests to me that students are supposed to do well to please the teacher, and not for their own rewards.  Of course, me doing this, even with a male cheerleader outfit, would not be a pretty sight.)

This discussion helped me to locate where my disagreement is with the majority of teachers I meet today as well as reasons for not liking many of my teachers growing up. Let me address point by point.

I believe teachers should be on the students side when the students are doing what well, but opposed to the students when they are doing something they should not be doing. Different students behave differently, and so a good teacher is on different students' side to varying degrees. The teacher should want all of their students to behave well and get good grades, but not "like" or "approve" of all students equally. Nothing is more unfair than treating all students equally; it degrades good students for teachers to lavish equal praise on the genius and the troublemaker. Why should any student behave if the teacher will make it equally easy to misbehave, or if the teacher simply says "I'm okay, you're okay, let's all be friends," or if the teachers is going to start every day saying "let's forget all of the misdeeds you committed yesterday and start anew"? This is comparable to telling every basketball player he's material for the Boston Celtics, every poet that he's W.H. Auden, or every drug dealer that he has the best dimebags in town. I'd even go so far as to say that the majority of students cannot be "above average."

Many of my high school teachers really annoyed me by seemingly believing that all people were basically good, kind, and hardworking - even kids bullies and students who cheated. I liked it when teachers took a stand against students like that.  All of my teachers growing up were against the death penalty not because it was giving govt too much power, or because some innocent people were put to death, but because all people were basically good. I did not want to go into teaching telling students that life is a big rock candy mountain or that everyone is equal. I wanted to give students the opportunity I never had, which was to have a fair teacher.

There is a countervailing consideration.  That is, that most people underestimate their own abilities.  By believing in students more than they believe in themselves, they can nourish these abilities, and still have a realistic grasp on reality.  However, this needs to be weighed against the need to be fair to students who have already proven themselves.  With students are conducting themselves improperly, it also needs to be weighed against the need to make it clear that their past conduct is unacceptable.

Students at my school did what they can get away with. For example, one teacher with no classroom management skills had half the class ask to go to the bathroom (they really went to lunch).  Students justified it by saying "everyone else was doing it." If teachers don't punish tardiness or uniform violations, students come to class late and out of uniform.

I don't believe you should cheer as loud as you possibly can for an okay answer when you've heard much better. You should be correspondingly less enthusiastic. I know some students put 15 hours a week into their homework and others who put none. These students should not be treated the same. Students who are nasty should be perceived as nasty by good teachers.   I wasn't concerned with students who drink, have sex, do drugs, smoke, listen to heavy metal, swear, or cut school.  I think students are nasty when they're interrupting the flow of the class, denying reality, blaming the teacher for their own poor performance on multiple guess open notes quiz, or asking for something they haven't earned.

Let's not raise kids to be moochers and looters by showering them with undue affection.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty

1. At various points Hayek sounds like a utilitarian, cultural relativist, Rawlsian, and natural rights theorist.  Partly, this is because he has an elliptical writing style and writes in almost 100% abstract language with very few examples.  He devotes considerable space attacking utilitarianism but he sounds like one himself in several places.  His cultural relativism comes across very clearly.  He says that one should not interfere with Eskimos who exile a relative to freeze to death after a certain age. 

2. Hayek gives undue regard to tradition.  He argues that cultural practices might have evolved over time and have a use that no one person articulates or knows now, but probably serve some useful purpose.  Therefore, one should proceed with caution overturning any tradition, especially by legislation.  This could justify any number of obviously immoral practices - spousal rape, teasing gay kids to the point of suicide, and slavery.  Once I read the work of Ayn Rand, I tried to go through my day asking why I did everything I was doing, and I was able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary baggage this way.  My life is much better for it and I wish I had been even more thorough.  I believe one should stop anything one is doing out of custom if one can't find a reason for it (even if it is just "It feels good and has no harm that I'm aware of"), and then go back to it if one suddenly finds a reason for it later.  But Hayek continually blasts at this sort of Cartesian philosophy, which he calls constructive rationalism.

Hayek never provides guidelines as to how quickly to jettison customs once people start doubting them. 

3. Hayek's defense of the spontaneous order can lead to the state.  Government regulations and bureaucracies are often responses to things that happened in the past and that people can no longer articulate.  He doesn't spend very much time at all outlining why coercive measures are worse than other kinds of responses to problems of the past.

4. Hayek writes in favor of state supported minimal housing, medical care, schooling, and a guaranteed income, albeit of the voucher variety.  He points out later that voters are seldom willing to fund poor people alone, and measures to help the poor are almost always followed by measures that fund the middle and upper classes, which create a burdensome state that hurts the poor.  Even from the point of view of buying off the poor in exchange for cooperation with capitalism,  it sounds like the poor are worse off as a result of such measures.

He specifically states he has no quarrel with Rawls at one point, although one of his guidelines of a good society is one in which a member picked at random will have the highest chances of attaining his subjective ends, while Rawls says what matters is that of the least well off member.